If you were to create a prescription for a happy relationship, experts recommend including a healthy dose of couples doing nothing together.
The idea of “less is more” — quiet moments in each other’s company, without busy activities or other people — slows time down, which gives people in love the chance to focus on each other in an authentic, mindful way, and reconnect, says Jeffrey Bernstein, a psychologist in Exton, Pennsylvania.
“It’s a big deal because we’re in a frenzied world. We have so much that’s encroaching on our time, with emails, text messages,” Bernstein told TODAY.
“What’s being sacrificed is a lot of couples’ mindfulness — the idea of being present, sensing each other, being able to stay in the place of expressing gratitude for each other. These are really important components of relationships maintenance.”
He’s always taken aback whenever he sees couples in restaurants paying more attention to their phones than each other.
Spending time together allows for issues to come out in a comfortable way in a relationship, noted Dr. Gail Saltz, a New York psychiatrist and TODAY contributor. That’s what creates emotional intimacy, which is vital for couples.
When something is going on with one or both partners, it’s very common for them to load up on activities or always have dinner with friends as a way to create distraction and use other people’s presence to divert dealing with issues, Saltz said.
“Ultimately, that is not good for the relationship. The issue just generally festers and you create more distance,” she said.
Here’s what to look for and reconnect:
Think about your free time
If you notice that whenever you have any free time together, you’re always planning an activity or always involving other people, consider that it may benefit your relationship long term to back off that a bit, Saltz said. Add back some down time.
“If two people are extremely extroverted and like involving lots of other people, it’s not necessarily diagnostic of a problem. But if they can never be alone, there’s anxiety, then I would wonder what’s going on,” she noted.
Let nature help you reconnect
Involve the senses by going to any nature setting, Bernstein recommended. Go for a walk together, smell the flowers, enjoy strolling through a botanical garden, relax on the beach.
Quiet time can be an invitation to talk
“Doing nothing” is an opportunity to attune to each other. If you’re sitting and reading a newspaper together, and one spouse points out an interesting article, that’s an opportunity for the other spouse to say, “Let me hear about that,” Saltz said. It gets the communication going.
Remember eye contact
Take 30 seconds or a minute to look into your partner’s eyes, Bernstein recommended. Enjoy a lingering, mutual gaze, the kind you had when you were first dating.
“That’s the most you can slow down time and be really mindful,” he said.